In April 2017, Mike Round, Director of Development on the Ladies European Tour (LET), visited New Delhi for the India Golf Expo. Speaking to a gathering that included the entire Indian golf industry Round stressed on the need for working together in tandem to grow the women’s game in the country similar to what has been an ongoing process for years in Europe.
Fast forward to November, the Women’s Golf Association of India(WGAI), the Indian Golf Union(IGU) and the LET (supported by the R&A) worked in tandem to facilitate an achievers’ camp for young golfers from across the country. Held during the Hero Women’s Indian Open at the DLF Golf and Country Club, the juniors came in from cities that included Pune, Kolkata, Bangalore and Delhi National Capital Territory among others. This was the first time that such a camp was held on the LET.
“Maybe there is another Aditi Ashok out there amongst you”, said Champika Sayal, the Secretary-General of the WGAI.
Sayal was referring to the success that the Bangalore based Ashok has had, including three wins on the LET. Ashok created history last year by becoming the first Indian to win her national open, following it up with a win in Qatar later in the year. She comes into this week on the heels of a win in the UAE and is the defending champion.
Speaking post her round, Ashok said: “If golf could be introduced at a school level in India, I think we could have many more juniors playing the game.”
The camp began with an introduction to the workings of the LET as an organisation. Round spoke about how the tour encompasses culture around the world with golf as a common theme. “We’d like to challenge the norm, and in the process. inspire people to come into the sport. The idea is to generate a lot of interest and engage with fans.”
The juniors were also given a brief history of the tour that was launched back in 1978, rounding up the session with a few visuals that showed the 2016 season in review and the Solheim Cup.
Next on the schedule was the highest-ranked player in the field. Number 20th in the world, Spain’s Carlota Ciganda, who is a multiple winner on the LET and the US-based LPGA tour, conducted a clinic for the juniors, their parents, and members of the host club.
Questions from the children led to her discussing the importance of an education, her routine before playing a competitive round and her practice schedule. They were also invited to hit balls with her. To the delight of everyone present, Ciganda put on a ball striking clinic before India’s Simi Mehra took centre stage.
While Si Ri Park is universally acknowledged as South Korea’s trailblazer, Mehra was the first Indian to play on the LPGA Tour. “When I was 14, I told my mother I wanted to play on the LPGA Tour. It wasn’t easy to do considering that no one from India had ever done it before.
“Annika (Sorenstam) once helped me with my putting stroke before a round. She then went on to tell me that we must play together against the course, and battle like lions. We need strong, independent athletes like her in our country.”
Thus ended day one for the junior invitees, who were also given access to the golf course, to watch the tournament proper and interact with the players. The schedule for Saturday includes clinics with Neha Tripathi and Carly Booth, alongside a session with the WGAI and a Rules of golf and fitness tips session.
No one summed it up better than Ashok herself when she reflected, “You can play golf for a really long time which is not common amongst other sports. For kids to pick up the game and play would be great as it teaches you so much that helps in life – honesty, patience and hard work… because you can’t always get lucky!”
By Aman Misra in Gurgaon